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Cardinals Felt Prepared to Overcome Adversity in Win Over Cleveland

The Arizona Cardinals had a lot going against them this week when it came to injuries and COVID-19 cases, but they prevailed nonetheless.

How does a team not only compete in a game after a COVID-19 outbreak, but dominate?

The Arizona Cardinals did not have head coach and play-caller Kliff Kingsbury, quarterbacks coach Cam Turner and defenders Chandler Jones, Zach Allen and Corey Peters Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. 

Yet they still went up 20-0 on the road and closed out their sixth victory of the season, 37-14. 

"Everyday, it was bad news and no one blinked," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said postgame. "Not one time. Even at Saturday morning practice when the players knew that Kliff was down for the game, it was no worries."

The first offensive possession was going to be telling. 

Assistant wide receivers coach Spencer Whipple was in quarterback Kyler Murray's ear instead of Kingsbury. Plus, the Cardinals were down center Rodney Hudson, who was placed on injured reserve (ribs/shoulder) Saturday. 

Murray led a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive while converting on three third downs. 

While Whipple had the headset, the offense was run by a collaborative effort on the sideline. Murray also had the freedom to check a lot of plays, which paid off. 

Run-game coordinator and offensive line coach Sean Kugler assisted Whipple, and backup quarterback Colt McCoy was among those who also played a role. 

Murray said the operation went smoothly, even with the loud home crowd. 

"There were so many people who stepped up," wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "The game plan is the game plan; we all have a good feel in certain situations what play is going to be called. Kliff develops that and we practiced it all week. Spencer did a good job of sticking to it, but also being able to change on the fly."

The defense had perhaps its strongest showing of the season. 

The Cardinals shut the Browns out in the second half after allowing a Hail Mary just before the break. Without that prayer of a completion, Arizona allowed seven points to what was a top-10 scoring offense. 

Execution and playing up to a standard no matter the odds was a theme during postgame press conferences. The Cardinals in all three phases accomplished that Sunday. 

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"Just the the resiliency of this team, we come out here every single day, every week and we don't worry about what's going on around us," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We focus on ourselves, executing the game plan, putting ourselves in positions to execute."

This was the most dramatic test the Cardinals had to face this year, but not the only one. 

Arizona has played games missing multiple starting defensive backs and offensive linemen. Four of their six games thus far have been on the road, three against 2020 playoff teams. 

Last week, the Cardinals won a grimy, defensive battle with the 49ers without starting cornerbacks Byron Murphy Jr. and Marco Wilson due to ribs injuries. Plus, Hudson went down early in the second half.

This team is 6-0 for a reason; they've been able to fight through tests during games and in this case before one. 

"You face adversity every Sunday, and we've responded really well to it," Kirk said. "So I think that's why coming into today, nobody had the belief that we weren't going to win this game. We have that confidence every single Sunday and I think that helps."

Next-man-up mentality is a term used a lot in football, and the Cardinals have certainly preached it when players have gone down this season. But it is a different ask when it comes to coaches having to take on new roles less than 48 hours before kickoff. 

Murray said that the team bought into what Whipple was calling, and that made a difference. 

"Whenever he called it aggressively, we had all the faith, we were behind him regardless of what he would call," Murray said. "We were going to go out there and execute."

Comments from Cardinals throughout the year have created a picture of a strong locker-room bond with accountability. 

Left tackle D.J. Humphries said last week that this team reminds him of the 13-3 Cardinals from 2015 in that way. 

This comes from maturation of the younger players like Murray along with the voices of veterans who returned and were acquired this offseason.

"The leadership and at the end of the day to not let things around you impact what's going on the field, good teams are able to overcome adversity and win games that many people doubt that they're going to win," Hicks said.

In order to win a game like the Cardinals did Sunday, there needs to be trust within the team, players and staff alike. 

There evidently was against the Browns, and every member of the team, players and staff, was awarded a game ball for the complete effort.